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Inside the YSL Retrospective

Inside the YSL Retrospective

« All my dresses come from a gesture. A dress that does not reflect or does not make one think about a gesture is not the right one» Yves Saint Laurent


Yves Saint Laurent, 1969 Photographie Jeanloup Sieff
Yves Saint Laurent © The Estate of Jeanloup Sieff


We bring you an insiders look at the thematic progression of the retrospective exhibition Yves Saint Laurent at the Petit Palais.

Birth of a 'Revolutionary' Dress Maker (Naissance d'un couturier « Révolutionnaire »)

On his mentor Christian Dior, this is what Yves Saint Laurent had to say « I remember him particularly. Him, who I could never bring myself to call Christian, but Mr. Dior. His taught me the essential. ». This section deals with Yves Saint Laurent's formative years at Christian Dior between 1955 and 1957. It was here when he created the famous «Trapèze » collection in 1958.


Studio Mental/ Studio Real ( Studio Mental/ Studio Réel)

In a space submerged in half-light come forth the images and aesthetic references (from painters, musicians, writers etc. that have nourished the imagination of Yves Saint Laurent. Studio Real evokes the studio at the Avenue Marceau where the designer created his collections. « In the beginning, its the drawing. That is our verb to work with. That's what guides us and stays the reference (point). After that the canvas allows to judge, to interrupt, to continue. Later, its the fabric that marks an essential stage, that of an audacity, of risk. Finally comes the model that dares the first steps before joining others and forming the collection. » Pierre Bergé

Revolution of Genres (Révolution des Genres)

Presenting 43 models illustrating the essential of the house of Yves Saint Laurent: the Sailor's jacket, the safari jacket, the suit, the skirt (worn with jacket), the Normandy blouse, the tunic and the jumpsuit.


Yves Saint Laurent and the Women (Yves Saint Laurent et les femmes)

YSL addressed himself to women and not to a fantasy or an abstract idea of a woman. Dressing the women; its to help them live daily in a constantly changing world. He replaces the « total look »by a wardrobe with which each woman would find her own style. This section contains more than 15 models of dresses ordered by YSL's loyal clients: Nan Kempner ; Jacqueline, comtesse de Ribes ; Betty Catroux ; Loulou de la Falaise, etc. In 1966, YSL created fashion history by bringing out the first ready-to-wear (prêt-à-porter) line from a haute-couture house. The line achieved immediate success as the style Yves Saint Laurent became accessible to a larger number of women.

Belle du Jour, Catherine Deneuve

On Catherine Deneuve, this is what Yves Saint Laurent said in an interview in Paris Match, 1992 « She has always been extra ordinary for me. I have been dressing her since 'Belle de jour' [1967], the film of Luis Buñuel. This is a woman with a lot of charm and a wonderful heart. »

Yves Saint Laurent by Jean-Loup Sieff- A Mythic Series

For the launch of his first perfume for men, Yves Saint Laurent posed in nude in front of the camera of JeanLoup Sieff. His audacity got him an iconic status. All the photos from this series are presented for the first time in public in this exhibition.


The Essence of Scandal (l'Essence du scandale)

As we remarked earlier, Saint Laurent was not privy to scandals. The press took harshly on him for his 1971 Spring-Summer collection inspired from the 40s. The public reacted not only to the souvenirs of the war but also to the cross of a high society woman and a woman on the street, the one imagined by the designer for this collection.



Collection haute couture printemps-été 1971 © Alexandre Guirkinger

The Exotic Fairy Tale (Féerie des exotismes)

This is what Saint Laurent had to say for the exoticism in his clothes, in an interview to Catherine Deneuve for Globe, May 1st, 1986 « I let my imagination take over for the countries that I don't know. I don't like to travel. If I read a book on India (sub-continent), with the photos, or on Egypt where I have not been, my imagination takes me there. That's where I do my most beautiful journeys ».


YSL Collection haute couture Fall-winter 1965 inspired by Mondrian

Collection haute couture automne-hiver 1965 © Alexandre Guirkinger

Dialogue with Artists and Writers (Dialogue avec l'art)

Saint Laurent took inspiration from master painters for his own creations throughout his career. In 1965, he launched a collection inspired by Mondrian. The collection was very well received as it marked the fusion of boundaries of different artistic universes. Thus one was to find artists such as Wesselman, Poliakoff, Van Gogh, Matisse, Picasso, Braque, Léger, Apollinaire, Aragon, Cocteau, Lalanne, etc. in the designer's creations.


The Last Ball (Le dernier bal)

An evening dress is a public face for any designer worth his salt. Yves Saint Laurent created magical dresses fit enough for princesses in their own right. More than 68 dresses of various collections are part of this section.

The Black Aster (l'astre Noir)

What can be said about this mythical piece of clothing that revolutionised feminine wardrobe and that has not already been told. Only this, in Saint Laurent's own words «For a woman, the tuxedo is an indispensable item with which she will continually feel fashionable because this is a dress of style and not a cloth of fashion. Fashions change but the style remains.»


The Colours of Yves Saint Laurent (Les couleurs d'Yves Saint Laurent)

The last section of the exhibition deals with the world of colours of Yves Saint Laurent- from muslin dresses to his last show in 2002, an explosion of colours suspended in space. For a designer who loved colours « I love gold- a magical colour, for the reflection of a woman, this is the colour of the sun. I love red, aggressive and wild. The colours of the dessert» Yves Saint Laurent


This is not to forget the lucky charm of a jewelled brooch in the shape of a hear that Yves Saint Laurent always put on one of the dresses for his shows.



Yves Saint Laurent's lucky charm a jewelled 'heart'
Coeur d’Yves Saint Laurent, 1962 © Fondation Pierre Bergé - Yves Saint Laurent


You might also like to read YSL- Portrait of an Icon


Original Quotes in French

« Je me souviens surtout de lui. Lui que je ne me résoudrai jamais à appeler Christian, mais Monsieur Dior […]. Il m’a appris l’essentiel ».

« Au début est le croquis. C’est notre verbe à tous. C’est lui qui guide, qui reste le référent. Puis la toile qui permet de juger, d’interrompre, de continuer. Ensuite le tissu qui marque une étape essentielle, celle de l’audace, du risque. Enfin arrive le modèle qui ose ses premiers pas avant de rejoindre les autres et de former la collection ». Pierre Bergé

« Elle a toujours été extraordinaire pour moi. Je l'habille depuis Belle de jour [1967], le film de Luis Buñuel. C'est une femme qui a un charme et un coeur merveilleux » Yves Saint Laurent sur Catherine Deneuve

« J’exerce mon imagination sur les contrées que je ne connais pas. Je déteste voyager. Si je lis un livre sur les Indes, avec des photos, ou sur l’Égypte où je ne suis pas allé, mon imagination m’emporte. C’est là que je fais mes plus beaux voyages ». Yves Saint Laurent, entretien avec Catherine Deneuve dans Globe, 1er mai 1986.

« Pour une femme, le smoking est un vêtement indispensable avec lequel elle se sentira continuellement à la mode car c’est un vêtement de style et non un vêtement de mode. Les modes passent, le style demeure ». Yves Saint Laurent

« J’aime l’or, une couleur magique, pour le reflet d’une femme, c’est la couleur du soleil. J’aime le rouge, agressif et sauvage. Les couleurs fauves du désert ».Yves Saint Laurent